4 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint


In recent years, we have all become aware of our own habits that affect our Mother Earth. Like many busy, working moms, I have concerns about the planet that my children will inherit and consider changes that I can make to make the world a better place. I discovered some simple choices that don't involve buying a new car or replacing household appliances. All we need to do is rethink a few habits that can greatly reduce our family's carbon footprint and save us some money, too.


Pack your kids a waste-free lunchbox
We have come to rely on many convenience products, including the way we pack lunches for our kids. Most parents pack lunch items in single-use plastic bags, aluminum foil or wax paper, or buy single-serve items that come in disposable packages. These products may save us some time in the morning rush, but the environmental cost is staggering. It has been estimated that on average, one school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. According to wasterfreelunches.org, parents spend $4.02 per day by packing their child a "disposable" lunch. In contrast, on average, a waste-free lunch costs $2.65 per day to pack.

It's easier said than done to change our mind-set and habits, from stuffing our kids' lunches with prepared meals and snacks to actually packing a lunch the old-fashioned way. Amy Hemmert, the president of Obentec Inc., a California-based company that makes lead-free, waste-free lunch kits and lunch-box systems, suggests "planning ahead and stocking kitchen with wholesome choices, including nuts and dried fruits." Maximize leftovers by making a little extra the night before, and pack it the next day for lunch.

Avoid prepackaged single servings and disposable plastic bags, which cost about 5 cents each. Pack real silverware and avoid juice boxes and disposable water bottles. Hemmert's products help consumers pack healthy and waste-free lunches quickly and easily. Busy parents can visit www.laptoplunches.com/ideas.html for "grab-and-go" lunch ideas. Her company also offers a free monthly e-newsletter with recipes and lunch ideas.

Use reusable shopping bags
Paper or plastic? Neither. More than one billion single-use plastic bags are given out by retailers for free each day! The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and other natural gases that are non-renewable and increase our dependency on foreign suppliers. The annual cost to retailers is estimated to be $4 million. Consumers ultimately pay the price for these one-use plastic bags, but more importantly, our planet is suffering. Sea turtles, whales and other marine animals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Land animals are also suffering when they accidently ingest plastic bags while looking for food. It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Whether shopping for groceries or shopping at the mall, bring your own bags. It's an easy and fun way to shop. Kids like carrying their own reusable bags that reflect their personalities. I find my purchases easier to carry, load and unload and unpack in a sturdy, reusable bag.

Eliminate disposable water bottles
One simple choice that will help the environment and instantly lower your grocery bill is to stop buying bottled water. According to the Container Recycle Institute, Americans buy an estimated 25 billion single-serving plastic bottles of water per year. Eight out of 10 of those bottles will end up in a landfill. Consumers spend an estimate of $7 billion on bottled water in the United States each year. According to the Earth Policy Institute, 1.5 million barrels of oil are used annually to produce disposable plastic water bottles in America alone. That's enough to fuel 100,000 cars for one year.

I know the convenience of throw-away bottles, but I have actually found it easier to wash the reusable containers than to lift, unload, remove the plastic seal, and store those heavy prepackaged bottles of water. Avoiding single-sized boxes and bottles of juice can save on your weekly grocery bill and also reduce your child's caloric intake. Bring a reusable water bottle to the gym of to your kids' games, and pack one in their lunchboxes. Filtered tap water tastes and quenches thirst just as well.

Eat less meat and dairy
One of the most powerful and personal choices that we can all easily make to reduce our carbon footprint is often overlooked. It has to do with the food we choose to eat. A report (released November 2006) from the United Nations found that raising animals for human consumption contributes to global warming.

On average, 2,500 gallons of water is used to produce 1 pound of meat, and 750 gallons of water is needed to produce 1 gallon of cow's milk.

Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that an individual eating a vegan diet is 50 percent more effective in reducing global warming than a person driving a hybrid car who eats an animal-based diet. Only a fraction of land and resources is needed to produce plant-based foods. By eating less (or no) meat and dairy, we can help preserve the Earth's resources and limit pollution and greenhouse gasses. So the next time you're grocery shopping, consider more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes and pastas, and pass by the meat and dairy. You will not only help the environment; you may save money and even enjoy some health benefits as a result of these food choices.

If switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn't appeal to you, try going meatless just for one day a week. Many celebrities, including Paul McCartney, support an international campaign called "No Meat Mondays" to reduce emissions. You may find it easier to change your food choices for one day a week rather than giving up your car for one day a week. For more information and recipes, visit www.supportmfm.org.

Whether we want to or not, the time is now to rethink our habits and become more Earth-friendly. We owe it to our children to teach them respect for the planet they will inherit by being respectful of nature and its limited resources. What better way to teach kids about their individual responsibility to take care of our planet than to discuss with them the differences in their school-lunch boxes? My own children have adjusted well and haven't thrown (so far) out a non-disposable spoon or container. Children will learn to care for our Earth through waste reduction at lunchtime, helping their parents remember the reusable shopping bags and by making food choices that are require less of the Earth's resources. In doing so, they will also gain an understanding of the importance of what we put into our bodies and what we feed our Mother Earth.

Louise Hajjar Diamond is a guidance counselor, mother of two and freelance writer living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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